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Alumnus Shares a Powerful Story of Transformation With Summer Grads

Alumnus Shares a Powerful Story of Transformation With Summer Grads

The Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) bid farewell to 320 graduates, including 29 international students from 11 nations, earning 323 advanced degrees during the 2018 Summer Quarter Graduation ceremony in King Auditorium, September 21.

University president retired Vice Adm. Ronald A. Route opened the ceremony with a congratulatory message to the quarter’s graduating class, recognizing the significance of their commitments and accomplishments, as well as those of the graduates’ families.

“We have immersed you all in an extremely competitive academic environment that has enabled you to focus on the challenges that affect your service, our defense capabilities, and national security,” Route said. “It is our commitment that your NPS education will provide you with the foundation that the rest of your careers of life-long learning are built.”

Route went on to thank the faculty, staff and loved ones that contributed to the students' successes, while also recognizing the NPS Foundation for providing the university with an important “margin of excellence.”

He then turned the podium over to commencement speaker Vice Adm. P. Gardner Howe III, currently serving as Associate Director for Military Affairs at the Central Intelligence Agency. Howe echoed Route in expressing his gratitude for NPS faculty and staff, as well as the family, friends and colleagues of the graduates.

“I’m so glad to be back here at the Naval Postgraduate School,” opened Howe. “NPS is such a special place, but not because of the incredible, natural beauty of the Central California coast or Monterey Bay.

“It’s special because of what happens here, or at least what happened to me here,” he continued. “It was an intellectual awakening, and a transformational experience, for my personal and professional development.”

Howe graduated from NPS in 1995, earning a Master of Arts in National Security Affairs. He arrived at NPS in the middle of a promising military career after graduating from the Naval Academy with 10 years of active duty service under his belt. He had already earned his trident by completing BUD/S training and initial SEAL qualifications training, in addition to five arduous deployments behind him.

He was quick to admit that he stepped foot on campus as a man with confidence, that he knew what to expect. But it didn’t take long to realize he was wrong.

“It only took about halfway through my first [quarter] of studies here for me to realize how naïve and under-developed intellectually that I was,” Howe recalled.

“With all that experience, I felt that I had a pretty good idea of how the military and world worked,” he continued. “But it was here that I began to appreciate the complexity that is inherent in the world. And I began to appreciate the rich tradition of academic thought developed in schools and universities over millennia to deal with that complexity.”

During his studies, he said, Howe developed new ways of thinking and seeing the world, sharpened his critical thinking skills, and improved his communication abilities.

“Most importantly, I developed a thirst for constant learning that continues to this day,” Howe declared. “My experience at the Naval Postgraduate School gave me an intellectual foundation that has served me incredibly well in the years since then.”

Howe’s time at NPS was nothing short of “life-changing” he said ... an impact that sticks with him today. “I remain incredibly grateful today to the faculty and students that guided me through it."

Howe then shifted his address from his time at NPS to a more recent assignment as president of the Naval War College. There, he gained a deeper understanding of the value of education to the military profession, stating, “Education is the key to our competitive advantage over military adversaries in the future.”

After almost two decades of counter-terrorism operations against non-state actors, the U.S. national defense strategy has reoriented the DOD against powerful state competitors such as China and Russia, Howe noted. Significant investments in advanced technology and weapons have made these nations powerful peers, with comparable technology in military platforms, equipment and capabilities, he added.

“I’d offer that there is really only one place for us to look for a competitive military advantage,” Howe noted. “And I believe that advantage is you, the leaders of our military force. It’s not going to be our technology, or our tactical competence that is going to provide a decisive advantage over a peer competitor in a future conflict.

“Technology and tactical competence are critical components, but they won’t be sufficient to prevail over a peer competitor,” he continued. “In my view, it all comes down to education ... Advanced education, like what is accomplished here at NPS, serves as the key enabler for our nations competitive military advantage.”

In closing his address, Howe asked of one last thing from the students before they head back to the operational force.

“The full-time, in-residence education that you’ve just completed is truly a gift of the nation to you,” he said. “Do not take this wonderful gift for granted.

“I’d offer that the best way to [ensure] you don’t take that gift for granted is to consciously acknowledge the responsibility you’ve just inherited as a result,” Howe continued. “The responsibility to critically and thoughtfully employ this education as you move forward.”

No matter what commands your immediate attention, always remain “a strategically-minded, deliberately-thoughtful leader,” he stressed, someone who will proactively lead with independent, creative thought instead of reactively surviving with comfortable, conventional wisdom.

“As you depart today, I ask you to keep in mind the profession you serve, this profession of arms,” Howe said. “Never forget the trust that the nation has placed in you, your obligation to uphold that trust, and the professional ethic that guides your actions every day as you continue to grow as a steward, a true steward, of our profession.”

Following his speech, Howe was presented with the NPS Distinguished Alumni award by Route, recognizing his distinguished contributions to education, the Navy, and the DOD. Also recognized were Drs. John Arquilla, John McEachen, Clifford Whitcomb, and Moshe Kress, honored as the latest faculty to earn the prestigious title of distinguished professor for their exceptional and sustained scholarly, teaching and service accomplishments.

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